Back-Seat Driver

Fans got to new downtown arena every which way Saturday night

A new multimodal era has arrived in downtown Sacramento.

The Kings hosted an evening practice before a nearly packed house at Golden 1 Center on Saturday, and despite some hiccups, fans appeared to flow into the downtown easily for the event, using a variety of modes.

Most came in cars, but a surprising number came on light rail, filling seats and jamming many trains to standing-room-only levels. Others chose rideshare cars, bikes and walking.

Sacramento Regional Transit officials estimated their trains carried about 4,000 passengers to the arena, a lot more than city officials have expected for this first season.

“It was amazing,” RT spokeswoman Devra Selenis said.

The agency offered free rides to people with arena tickets, so it remains to be seen how many people will choose to ride at upcoming events when they have to pay.

The light-rail train I took 90 minutes before the event was standing-room-only, filled with people in purple. The feel was relaxed and upbeat. Bob Gutierrez of Placerville was among many rail rookies aboard.

“Gotta try something new,” he said. “I like it a lot.”

He said he will take light rail again the next time he attends a downtown arena event.

RT security guards and officials at stations handed out pamphlets and answered questions. RT security head Lt. Norm Leong said there was some confusion among riders afterward, however, about which returning trains go all the way to Folsom and which make their final stop at the Sunrise station.

He said RT and city officials will debrief Monday to see what needs to be changed for Tuesday’s opening-night Paul McCartney concert.

While light-rail trains were jammed, the same didn’t appear to be true for traffic on most streets. Many fans said they came early to avoid traffic and to check out the arena area.

The J Street exits from northbound and southbound Interstate 5 are expected to be chokepoints for arena traffic on weekday event nights, but they were flowing smoothly Saturday an hour before the Kings’ Fan Fest. Capitol Mall was backed up with traffic after the event, caused in part by the city closure of L Street between Fifth and Seventh, but from my observation, the traffic did not appear to be worse than the post-game funneling that happened at Sleep Train Arena.

Christian Gamino and friends from Woodland prepurchased a spot in the garage at Third and L streets on the city website and said they had no trouble exiting Interstate 5 or following GPS routing through city streets to their parking spot.

City officials said garages were about 30 percent full.

“It seemed to go very well,” city parking chief Matt Eierman said.

City officials had the gates up at their garages at the end of the evening, allowing drivers to leave without stopping, and plan to do that again when needed.

A lot of people left the Saturday event early, which spread the post-event load on the streets and on trains. Others stuck around afterward. A line immediately formed a block away of people waiting to get in to El Rey restaurant and bar after the event. There may be more of a challenge at garages and on light rail on Tuesday night, when the bulk of concertgoers will leave the arena at the same time and likely head directly home.

Brian Amos and his wife weren’t sure what it would be like near the arena Saturday, so they parked at the East End garage, nearly a mile away. That garage costs only $2 for the night. Their walk took them less than 15 minutes, they said.

“We walk fast,” Cathy Clarke-Amos said. She added that she saw plenty of police along the way and that she felt safe.

The lucky parking award goes to Nick Kamilos, who showed up at the last minute and found a street parking spot a block and a half from the arena.

“There it was, right in front of me!” he said. He has a disabled placard, so he didn’t have to pay the meter. Nondisabled drivers will have to pay $18.75 for meters within three blocks of the arena on nights when there are major events.

Emily Frei and Justin Benard bicycled from Boulevard Park and locked their bikes at a rack at Fifth and L, where there were about a dozen bikes. Frei said she felt safe leaving the bikes there but thinks the Kings should offer more bike racks. They forgot to put lights on their bikes for the ride home, though. (I saw some people on bikes weaving around pedestrians.)

The disabled drop-off situation could be problematic for some. The designated drop-off site was working smoothly Saturday, monitored by city ADA coordinator Neal Albritton, but it’s more than a block from the arena, and a handful of disabled people have complained that’s too far. Paratransit bus service is allowed to drop its riders off directly at the arena VIP entrance on L Street.

Police, traffic monitors, uniformed downtown guides and Kings greeters were highly visible on the streets and in the arena plaza. City officials say they are overstaffing early events, but likely will back off in coming weeks as they get a handle on how much monitoring is needed.

The plaza area, at the metal detectors and at the arena’s front doors, got crowded at times. At one point there was a line at the arena’s east entrance, but no line around the corner at the main entrance. To their credit, the Kings were aware, and had representatives telling people to head around the bend of the building to the main entrance.

Email me about your experience getting to and from Fan Fest. For those of you going to the McCartney concerts, let me know how that works out.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee